Lawyers representing WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange have failed in a bid to further delay his extradition case until next year.
- Julian Assange’s extradition hearing has resumed after a months-long delay due to the coronavirus lockdown
- The US claims he conspired to hack government computers and that he put lives at risk
- Mr Assange could face up to 175 years in prison if found guilty of all the charges
Assange, who is fighting to avoid extradition to the United States from Britain, appeared in a London court on Monday after his case was paused for several months due to the coronavirus lockdown.
US authorities accuse Assange, 49, of conspiring to hack government computers and of violating an espionage law in connection with the release of confidential cables by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011.
Assange, clean-shaven and wearing a suit at Monday’s hearing, formally declined to be extradited.
He has been presented with a new, wider superseding indictment issued by US authorities in June, which contains 18 alleged offences of conspiring to hack government computers and espionage.
The judge rejected his lawyers’ application for the case to be adjourned until January to allow them more time to consider new US accusations.
“We’re simply not in a position to gather the evidence necessary and respond to the case that has only emerged in the last few weeks,” Assange’s lawyer Mark Summers said.
Julian Assange’s partner Stella Moris (right) and lawyer Jennifer Robinson (left) arrive at the Old Bailey ahead of a hearing to decide whether Mr Assange should be extradited to the United States.(Reuters: Peter Nicholls)
Assange made international headlines in April 2010 when WikiLeaks published a US military video showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff.
WikiLeaks later published vast troves of US military records and diplomatic cables.
More recently, it released documents stolen from the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential election campaign.
Assange denies accusations by US investigators that it obtained those documents from Russian hackers, though the issue is not part of the legal proceedings.
The extradition hearings started in February but were then postponed for several months before being further delayed because of a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Assange’s lawyers say he would not receive a fair trial in the United States on political charges.
In court papers, they wrote that the pursuit of Assange was part of President Donald Trump’s “effective declaration of war on leakers and journalists”.
The first witness, Mark Feldstein, a professor of journalism at the University of Maryland, told London’s Old Bailey court that no publisher had been successfully prosecuted in the United States for publishing leaked confidential documents.
Julian Assange’s father John Shipton spoke during a protest to support his son as he arrived in court for his hearing.(AP: Frank Augstein)
Outside court Mr Assange’s father, John Shipton, hit out at the US authorities’ pursuit of his son.
“I think the case is a fraud against the court, that’s what I think fraud against the court applied by the American Department of Justice,” he said.
“Julian is an Australian citizen, the publication is in the United Kingdom and yet he is kidnapped and judicially abducted to the United States to spend 175 years in jail.”
Assange’s legal travails in Britain date back to 2010, when he began fighting an attempt to extradite him to Sweden to answer questions about allegations of sexual assault, which have since been dropped.
In June 2012, he sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy.
He spent seven years holed up there, and fathered two children in that time.
After Ecuador revoked his asylum, he was dragged out of the embassy in April 2019 and served a short British prison sentence for violating bail terms.
He remains jailed pending the outcome of the US extradition request.